It’s time to sleep and your stomach is raging, but eating before bed never goes well: You’re either hit with a surge of energy (the kind where you stop blinking), or an a.m. food hangover worse than all of your bachelorette party hangovers combined. But if you don’t eat, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night all sweaty and twitchy and wanting to slaughter somebody for a can of Pepsi. Sigh.
So what’s the deal? Are we just taking “midnight snack” too literally?
Yes and no: Some of us skip eating before bed for fear of the above happening, while for others it’s not when they’re eating, but what they’re eating that's the problem.
For those of you who are skippers, not only can hunger pains keep you from falling asleep, they can also wake you in the middle of the night (like those horrible naked dreams). What’s worse, in not eating before bed you increase the risk of burning lean muscle while you sleep, and waking up feeling completely drained – which can easily lead to binge eating later in the day.
For those of you who… well, aren’t skippers, there are many eating-before-bed faux pas you could be committing. “If you eat foods that are too high in sugar or refined carbohydrates before bed, this can cause too much insulin to be released,” says Jessica Drummond, Founder and CEO of Custom Hormone Healing. Afterward you’ll experience low blood sugar (hence the severe Pepsi craving), which will then cause a cortisol surge to raise it back up. By that point, you'll likely wake up with a racing heart and anxiety. (Yay, right?)
The key is to meet in the middle and have a light snack of about 200 calories: It’s enough to nix hunger, but not so much that your sleep will be disrupted.
Foods to Enjoy Eating Before Bed
Below, a guide to healthy munchies you'll not only enjoy eating before bed, but that will also help you wake up feeling refreshed and energized:
Whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, mangoes, bananas, or grapes. “Tryptophan is an amino acid found in these foods. It's a natural sedative that’s converted into serotonin, which makes you feel calm and sleepy,” says registered dietician-nutritionist Alexandra Kaplan, which is why these foods are key if you’re eating before bed.
Pair up a slice of turkey with an apple and almond butter, a pear with peanut butter and cinnamon, raw milk cheese with sliced cucumber, or berries with whole plain yogurt. “To improve sleep quality, you want to eat foods high in protein (especially those with tryptophan) and fat,” says Drummond. “The protein and healthy fat will keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night.”
Pumpkin seeds. “One way to raise serotonin and improve mood and sleep is to enjoy a snack of roasted pumpkin seeds,” says Trudy Scott, certified nutritionist and author of "The Antianxiety Food Solution: How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings". “They’re a great source of tryptophan and zinc.” (Pssst, here’s a delicious recipe! You’re welcome.)
Cottage cheese with peanut butter. Cottage cheese contains casein protein which takes longer to digest, and you can ward off hunger even longer by adding in a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Popcorn and Parmesan cheese. Personally, eating before bed has become a hobby of mine. My current addiction: a bowl of stovetop popcorn with Parmesan, salt and pepper. It’s delish!
Do you have a favorite snack you enjoy eating before bed?
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Image: Romana Correale